A look at the Chase ... through Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon'
I’ve been a fan of the group Pink Floyd for longer than I’ve followed NASCAR. As a tribute to Pink Floyd’s keyboardist Richard Wright (pictured with Pink Floyd in this Associated Press photo from 1967, at far right), who lost his life to cancer yesterday at age 65, I‘m going to offer a glimpse of what you can expect from the Chase, and what drivers need to do to win it, via the song titles from Pink Floyd‘s “Dark Side of the Moon“ album.
Speak To Me: Communication between driver and crew chief is one of the keys to success in NASCAR. As the race goes on and track conditions change, the car often starts to have issues. In these cases, the driver needs to let his crew chief know what’s going on, and the crew chief needs to make the proper adjustments so the problem is fixed. The best crew chief/driver tandem is by far Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson, who work so well together it’s no surprise he’s won two titles and is a favorite to win his third straight. On the flip side, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon have had crew chief issues all season, and have no shot at the title if these issues continue into the Chase.
Breathe: This is my advice to Kyle Busch. Breathe, take it easy. He has to be hot under the collar after his rough weekend at New Hampshire. But he isn’t that far behind the leader and shouldn‘t panic. If he calms down and gets back to the form he showed all season, he should be alive in the title hunt when they get to Homestead.
On the Run: All Chase drivers will be on the run, from each other. You can bet the spotters and crew chiefs will keep good track of how other Chase competitors are running in comparison to each other. If someone’s a few points ahead of their driver in the standings, they’ll make sure the driver knows it’s especially important to make this particular pass. The title can be decided by just a few points, so every position counts.
Time: It’s not something that can be taken for granted. Bad runs in the next couple weeks will leave a driver in a hole they’re unlikely to come out of (Matt Kenseth is almost there after just one week). You can’t count on a comeback with a few races left, so consistency early in the Chase will be the key, and anyone who lacks it can kiss the title goodbye.
The Great Gig in the Sky: Lessons from drivers who have passed on will no doubt be put into play during the Chase. You can bet Dale Earnhardt Jr. (and everyone else for that matter) learned something about racing from his father, and will put those lessons to use during the remaining nine races.
Money: There’s a lot of bucks on the line here. Over the past two seasons, champion Johnson has averaged more than $8 million dollars in earnings once all bonuses were collected … and is on pace for similar numbers if he takes another title this year. Whoever takes the crown will have some very fat pockets come season’s end, and that’s plenty of motivation beyond the simple drive to win.
Us and Them: There are chasers and there are non-chasers, and the non-chasers far outnumber the chasers. All the other guys are racing for 13th place at best, and don’t be surprised if one of them gets sideways one weekend and ruins the Chase hopes of a title contender. The law of averages would indicate this is pretty much a guarantee.
Any Colour You Like: The black-and-white checkered flag will be the color of choice for all the Chase drivers. Winning races to earn maximum points is the best way to make your move in the standings and contend for the title. Just ask Greg Biffle, who make a huge jump to 3rd place in the standings with his win at New Hampshire. A win or two is essential if a driver wants to take home the title.
Brain Damage: Something as stressful as the Chase can drive a team crazy, but true champions don’t get flustered. The true way to judge a competitor is to see how they react in times of crisis. The ones who remain calm, react to the situation and come out ahead are the ones who are worthy of championships.
Eclipse: Come Homestead, one driver will have eclipsed all the others and claimed the trophy as his own. It will be a fierce battle, and probably a tight one points-wise, but in the end only one will stand. All signs point to Johnson, who’s peaking at the right time, but strange things have happened in the past. No one expected Kurt Busch to take the first Chase.